Tuesday, September 20, 2016
I was going through my storage unit this past weekend looking for items to write about in this blog when I came upon a treasure trove of Le Grand David things. I honestly, don't even recall a lot of it and there is much more than I'm posting here. I found programs, flyers, postcards, saved envelopes, 8x10 photos, magazine articles and more. However, the items I'll share with you today are a little different.
First, we have the TIME Magazine article at the top of the page. This first appeared in TIME Magazine on May 12, 1980. It really shows that their show was something quite different from other magic shows. Full color photos of a MAGIC SHOW graced the paged of TIME Magazine. I can't help but think that was a first! This was the companies first National exposure and I'm not sure they were expecting the deluge that would follow. As soon as the article appeared, they began to get requests from all over, and I mean all over the world, for tickets. They would sell out that theatre on many occasions, even the balcony. In fact, according to the book Carteles de Magia, Cesareo commissioned a sign to be painted that said, SOLD OUT, that they could post in the lobby window. The magic world also sat up and took notice of the show. Even though they had started running 2 full page ads in Genii Magazine, the editor at the time Bill Larsen had yet to see the show. So in the summer of 1980, Bill and his wife Irene attended their first Le Grand David Magic Show. I know this for a fact because I was there. I met them during intermission at the show. It was a huge highlight for me. And then when the show was over, David Bull, who is Le Grand David, signed my copy of Genii Magazine, which I just so happened to carry with me to the show. The magic press would continue to write amazing articles as would magazines and newspapers of all kinds for the remainder of the shows run.
One interesting note, that now makes me a bit sad, is that after the TIME Magazine article came out, a number of Hollywood producers came to see the show. One of them even stayed for three days in the hopes of making a full length documentary on the magic show and it's company. How wonderful this might have been. But Cesareo turned them all down. I read this in Carteles de Magia, which added this quote by Cesareo, "Success and failure are two imposters." I remember him telling me about the Hollywood people and the Broadway visitors who wanted to get their hands on the show. But to quote Carteles de Magia, "Cesareo was highly unlikely to let our work diverge too far from it's original purpose." Still, the TIME article provided benefits right up until the end of the show's life. By the way, if you click the image of the article, a larger version should pop up that you can read.
The very very first time I went to LGD as a kid, I remember that there were samples of the posters available for purchase behind the consession stand. But upon my visits years later, I never really noticed anything 'for sale' beyond the candy and popcorn. I do believe at the Larcom they did have a small display case however. AND Rick Heath did walk around the theatre before the show as Albert Ping Pong selling programs.
Nicola poster. This was a wonderful way to connect Le Grand David to the magic shows of the past, but they would soon develop their own unique style of poster. It's funny to see this tiny version when the actual poster is enormous.
The poster depicts several scenes from the Cabot show. Upper left is the duck production. Upper right shows David and Marco presenting the Okito Production Screens. In the middle we see the wonderful Pagado that was the grand finale of the show. The lower left shows assistants with giant fans, and then the lower right is David popping out of their beautiful Shadow Box illusion.
I don't know who painted this one however. There is no mention in the Carteles book as to who the artist was. Cesareo was usually the designer or came up with the concept for the posters and other company members would do the painting. Rick Heath and Bill Balkus both painted and there may have been more. Clearly they were a highly talented and creative company but Cesareo always preferred to leave the early posters unsigned because they were an collaborative ensemble effort.
The final item is a small pin that I picked up on ebay. I think there were two different pins that they produced. It's amazing to me the many ways they used their artwork to promote the shows. I've seen the works used in advertising, posters, flyers, programs, postcards, books, decks of cards, pins and probably ways I never even imagined. This pin shows David presenting the Zombie and Cesareo wearing his costume for the Linking Rings. Rather than holding rings, Cesareo has butterflies around him, which was imagery that they would use many times in their artwork. The pin itself is about 1 inch by 2 inches.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
How fitting that I should return to my blog with The Phoenix! This is a poster I saw at the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre during my very first visit many many years ago. After the show, seeing the show for the first time, I had the opportunity to buy one of these cool posters but didn't. I regretted my decision. (I did purchase two 'other' posters however, which I still have today)
A few months later I would see the poster on display at the American Museum of Magic. And over the years I would see various versions of the poster, but getting one myself always alluded me.
According to the book, Carteles de Magia, by the Le Grand David Company, the poster was created
I have only ever seen the larger ones customized. The two images above are from the first Kaminski Auction. I have seen various other versions on ebay and elsewhere. Finally, thanks to the kindness and generosity of one of my readers, I can proudly say I have one of the customized Le Grand David Phoenix Posters in my collection. I have never seen a blue version before so this one is very special to me! The poster is also signed by Marco, Seth, Le Grand David and Professor Besco, the four lead performers at that time.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
More on Houdini & Kellar
Five years ago, I wrote an article about Harry Kellar and Harry Houdini, and then wrote a follow-up article on a different blog. I've decided to move that 'other' article over here for you to enjoy, but I'm also rewriting it a bit. I am totally fascinated by these two performers. I can't get enough of Kellar and Houdini. The more I find out about each of them, the more interesting they become.
Kellar was around before the modern media, before radio/TV/internet/movies, and certainly no Social Media. In fact, in Kellar's time, it was rare to see a photograph in the paper, as that technology was still in it's infancy. Instead, there were line drawings or fancy fonts in ads that were being used. So how did Kellar sell his show? POSTERS, newspaper ads and word of mouth! Kellar has some of the most beautiful and highly collectable posters in the history of the theatre. If you examine Kellar's posters you'll receive a 19th Century lesson on Branding that is still valid today. His posters had a consistent look and theme. Whether they displayed young Kellar or older Kellar, they were still done in the same style. Some posters featured Kellar performing his signature effects, others showed only Kellar...and usually a few of his devilish imps appeared in the posters as well.
There are a number of effects in Kellar's show that have always intrigued me, probably because I saw posters for them when I was starting out in magic and the images stuck with me. Two in particular were Flyto and OH!. Flyto was an illusion invented by Charles Morritt and it consisted of two upright rectangular cabinets on the stage set several feet apart. A woman would go into one and a man into the other and instantly they would change places.
OH! was kind of a challenge vanish. There was a chair, with a curtain cabinet around it. A Steel plate went under the chair to prevent someone from dropping into a trap door. The assistant who sat in the chair put her hand through the curtain which was held by a spectator from the audience, and the other hand held a ring which was attached to a cord held by another spectator. And under these stringent conditions the person in the chair still vanished without a trace!
HOUDINI was not born in the USA, but he always presented himself as if he was. In his mind he was a mid-westerner from a little town called Appleton. Now, where Heller and Herrmann were Kellar's rivals, they had a different connection to Houdini. Herrmann was a distant relative (maybe). Houdini enormous respect for Heller, even going so far to track down the old magi's grave. He said of Heller, "he was the most versatile magician to ever life."
Houdini was not the inspiration for any fictional characters that I'm aware of, however, he was such an iconic figure in history that he became the inspiration for many people inside and outside of magic. Even today, they still make movies and write books about this fellow, so still he has a hold on the public's imagination.
Houdini predated the internet/social media and TV. But he was right there when radio and movies were in their infancy, and he used them to the best of his ability. He did a number of radio interviews and as far as movies went, he starred in movies as well as opened his own movie studio to produce his own movies and his own film development company. He also used newspapers in ways that others had not with his sometimes scandalous photos (think naked jail escapes). Through his outdoor escapes he created his own sort of 'social media', back then it was called 'word of mouth' and it was extremely effective.
Like Kellar, Houdini used posters to their maximum effect. He even had one poster that had devils on it, but he eventually went his own way when it came to the images on the posters. He emphasised drama, fear and emotion in many of his posters. The Water Torture Cell posters and the Milk Can, 'Failure Means a Drowning Death' and the Water Torture cells often had the depiction of a green giant putting Houdini in the cell. Pure drama!
Houdini's Walking Through a Brick wall is another piece that is simply genius. Though I don't expect to Walk Through a Brick Wall anytime soon (it won't fit in my Van). And frankly, I have a new found respect for the Milk Can after having done a ton of research on it. The Milk Can restarted a stalled career for Houdini and then when he was ready to replace it with the Water Torture Cell, he found continual uses for the Milk Can.
It's ironic that Houdini and Kellar didn't really become friends until after Kellar retired. Houdini always looked up to Kellar. Houdini had a habit of looking up to 'father-figures'. Kellar fits this description, as does Harry Cooke & Oscar Teale.
The Houdini/Kellar relationship carries a valuable lesson. No matter how famous you are, there are people out there that you can admire. These two performers, certainly both admired each other.
By the way, maybe the best photo of the two magicians together can be found online. I will post the link, because I don't know who owns this today and would not post it without the owners ok. https://new.liveauctioneers.com/item/33516298_portrait-photograph-of-houdini-and-kellar
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Thanks to my friend Michael Stroud, who is a fine magician and also a big fan of Doug Henning and Le Grand David, I now have one of the canes from Doug Henning's Cane Cabinet in my collection. The Cane Cabinet as presented by Doug Henning was called Backstage With A Cane Cabinet and it was the creation of Jim Steinmeyer.
The origins of the trick go back to U.F. Grant and can be found in a number of different magic books including Tarbell. The U.F. Grant version used Steel Bars and an upright cabinet. Jim's creation was basically the same cabinet with some subtle alterations to the method and with canes rather than steel bars. It was introduced into Doug's show in 1984 according to the book, Spellbound, by John Harrison.
The routine borrowed liberally from Dante's Backstage With The Magician presentation, with a painted backdrop that looked like the audience. The illusion was performed facing that backdrop, so it appeared to the real audience they were getting a view of an illusion that wouldn't normally be seen.
In the course of the illusion, the magician, sneaks out of the cabinet (in full view of the real audience of course) and goes underneath a covered table-like structure. A large quantity of wooden canes are shoved into the now apparently empty box. Once all the canes are in, one of them mysteriously begins to move, the assistants quickly jump in and remove all the canes. At the conclusion of the illusion the magician is found having vanished underneath the table and is yet again inside the Cane Cabinet. It's a wonderful effect, part penetration, part transposition. Doug later performed this on The Tonight Show w/Johnny Carson.
In October of 2014, Jim Steinmeyer's column in Genii Magazine called CONJURING, featured another take on the cane cabinet, this time called The Petite Illusion. That version doesn't have the 'backstage' feature but does offer another 'sucker' like ending.
To my knowledge the only other person to present The Backstage with a Cane Cabinet was Lance Burton. I remember seeing the illusion featured on one of Lance Burton's TV Special's and I think he also performed it on the Tonight Show, but this time Jay Leno was the host. I am pretty sure I saw him perform it at his fantastic show at the Monte Carlo Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. At the bottom of the page is a video of Lance's Cane Cabinet in action.
The photo above/left shows the cane once owned and used by Doug Henning. I am actually going to have it mounted on a board with a photo of the cane cabinet, but I have to locate a photo of Doug presenting the illusion first. The Cane Cabinet owned by Doug Henning was purchased at the Southern California auction of Doug's props by a magician from Hollister, CA, William Wizard. My friend Michael purchased the illusion from Mr. Wizard at a later date. Michael held onto the illusion for a while but it's size became an issue for storage so he eventually sold it to an eccentric collector in California. However, Michael kept the canes and now one of those canes is in my collection.
If you enjoyed this, I'll have another Doug Henning article later this month!
Monday, September 5, 2016
I first encountered this name 'Kalanag' when I saw his photo in Milbourne Christopher's book, The Illustrated History of Magic. I found him very interesting as I read his story. His real name was Helmut Schrieber and he was born in January 23rd, 1903 in Stuttgart Germany. During WW2 he was a movie producer and amateur magician. There is a lot of controversy surrounding Kalanag, from his connections to Nazi's and the Third Reich in Germany, to his blatant stealing of Dante's catchphrase,
Sim Sala Bim, which Kalanag claimed as his own.
I remember hearing Siegfried from Siegfried and Roy talk about Kalanag and how he was inspired to become a magician from seeing his show. He related the story of how Kalanag made an icecream cone magically appear. As I recall, there was a video of Kalanag doing that very trick which accompanied the dialog. That goes back to one of those old History Channel documentaries on Magic from the late 90s.
Kalanag's life story deserves more time than I am going to devote to it right now. There is a new book out by William Rauscher about Kalanag called, Kalanag Magician of The Third Reich, which I need to pick and and read. And there was an old Genii article that I need to dig up that was about Kalanag. For now however, I want to share with you a small item I picked up at an auction recently.
The item is a small pin, which Kalanag personally gave to Cesareo Pelaez. I probably overpaid for the item, but I don't really care. It's interesting to me on two fronts and that is what matters. I don't know the whole story of how/where Cesareo met Kalanag, and it's not likely I'll ever find out. I did ask one of my Le Grand David friends, but he had not recollection of any Kalanag stories as told by Cesareo. I have an old email from Cesareo where he mentions Kalanag in passing, however nothing specific. But as Rick said, he spoke more of Okito, FuManchu and Richiardi than of anyone. Still, this is a great piece of magic history.